The much anticipated speech was given; it was the details that were missing. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was expected in his speech this week to give the nitty gitty particulars about how the Obama administration will spend the rest of the money from the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, commonly called the “bailout.” But it seems lawmakers and investors walked away scratching their heads, unsure of how exactly Geithner plans to stabilize the shaky banking industry.
The original bill passed last October under then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, called for $ 700 billion to be used to purchase distressed assets in a Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). The idea was the government would relieve banks of their mortgage-backed securities in particular, and then banks would be able to start lending again. $ 350 billion was quickly pumped into the banking system, but that did little to get the economy moving again.
The basic principles outlined Tuesday by Geithner include:
-The continued government purchase of bank stocks, but with greater government oversight. The Treasury Department says they plan to make sure the money is being used by the banks to increase lending and help the economy, making banks undergo a stress test of sorts to see if they deserve government funds.
-A large component of Geithner’s plan is a partnership between the government and private sector to encourage private investors to buy bad bank assets. This is an area of the plan where the details were sorely lacking. It is possible this will be accomplished with government guarantees or reduced costs for investors willing to take on the bad bank debt.
-There is also a part of the plan that is intended to help struggling homeowners with at least $ 50 billion of the original TARP funds. Again, exactly how the Treasure plans to use the money to stem the rising rates of foreclosures across the country was unclear.
The promises of aggressive efforts earlier from President Obama seemed hollow as Geithner gave a Paulson-like “you’ve just got to trust us” speech. Simon Johnson, an economics professor at MIT and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, told the Associated Press that the lack of details could be counter productive. Geithner “didn’t tell us exactly” what he’s going to do, Johnson said, adding, “When they tell you their basic principles, you’re really in trouble.”
Perhaps Geithner was reluctant to give more details because the cost of his plan goes far beyond the remaining $ 350 bailout funds. The total could come to trillions of dollars, which is a point he may have wanted to keep quiet while congress is still wrangling with the details of an $ 800 billion stimulus package. A version of the stimulus bill has been passed by both houses of Congress, unfortunately it is not the same version.
Stock markets from Asia to England reacted to the U.S. Treasury’s sketchy plan with sell offs, including a steep fall on Wall Street Tuesday. The world is watching and Americans are waiting, hoping that real help is on the way.
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